ACCORDING to the 2013 study, “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computeristion?” by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, 47 per cent of the jobs in the United States could be at risk of automation over the next two decades.

So look around your office — 47 per cent of the jobs being done here may one day be gone, maybe even yours.

Like it or not, that could be the new reality. What I would like you to think about is how to prepare for that 47 per cent job loss in 20 years’ time. Assuming we would probably be living and working till we are in our 70s by then, I am talking about those born between 1964 and 2004. That is a wide range of people fighting for 47 per cent fewer jobs.

Now I know some of you may simply dismiss this prediction. It won’t happen to my unique industry/function/role. I am pretty certain that is what went on in the minds of some people before they got displaced during the dot-com boom and bust, structural changes, recession, financial crisis and so on.

The truth is, things are evolving quicker than you can execute your plans. You will be caught like a fish in the dark if you don’t prepare yourself.

Need more convincing? In 2010, local restaurant Ruyi was already experimenting with a Robot Wok to automate the rice-frying process. And just this year, Singapore Changi Airport is pilot-testing fully automated robotic cleaning machines that manouevre themselves using sonar.

Throughout my time as a recruiter, I have seen many displaced job seekers. They are usually lost (their last job interview was decades ago), disgruntled (unable to accept the reality that their industry is in twilight), and do not have the skill sets required for the 21st century.

It is hard to see them this way. Many had, during the good times, overindulged and overcommitted, and when the axe fell on their jobs, they were left afraid and despairing for the future.

The takeaway here is that you have to start creating that transition cushion and make sure it is as thick as possible.

So what can you do differently today to better prepare for 2034? My suggestions are really simple, and they are based on the common habits of successful people around the world:

•  Pick up a book and read it: American investor and businessman Mark Cuban spends three hours reading every day. Bill Gates has a list of the books he has read and reviewed. Reading engages the mind in ways the TV or YouTube videos cannot. Try to read a variety of works, from non-fiction to motivational literature. A regular reading habit will expand your knowledge and your universe. So start reading a chapter a day.

•  Become a global nomad: Industries rise and fall quickly nowadays, but a sunset industry in Singapore might be a sunrise one in Myanmar. If there are simply no further opportunities in your home country and you just can’t see ways to reinvent yourself, take your skills to another place that will appreciate them. For example, American basketball players ply their trade in Europe if they cannot make it into the National Basketball Association.

•  Gain publicity: You can blog about your profession, secure media interviews, or all of the above. It is a way to gain a reputation as an expert in your field. It is time-consuming but well worth the effort. Start by writing a well-researched opinion piece and grow it from there.

It is likely that many people will not heed the writing on the wall and prepare sufficiently for the future. This should motivate you even more to gear up for the changes ahead — after all, it is easier to outrun someone who is standing still.


Article by Adrian Tan, managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting.